‘Grace Crowley with Rah Fizelle and friends on Crowley’s roof garden, 227 George Street, c1935’
Image from Art Gallery of NSW Archive
I look at him but he looks at her.
Through the frangipani, she talks of colour again,
the sketch club students unable
to make it work. She can talk for the nation.
Fiz looks but hears only the shells. Only paint
and I can calm that noise. I was right –
to bring him here, to start the Crowley-Fizelle School.
Our school. Our love.
I nod and sip my beer.
Colour! I know colour like I know Fiz.
I live it, it is the bulbous cactus and the city sunlight
on Jane’s spotted dress. It is the blood
through this George Street school.
Sydney will not trap me: I will transform it, I will
transform art here. Smudge, they say,
you should be in France, you have avant garde bones!
I do; genius blood and marrow.
I should go –
but Fiz. He still screams at night and says he hates me.
Then he wakes and sobs that he loves me
in the callous Sydney sun.
I bring him up here, where the clatter
of morning traffic is a dawn chorus.
Fiz twists his legs, clutches the chair
arm to steady himself – he never eats –
and they call me small! –
I am his steady armchair now.
And yet: he draws away. I sleep over here
some – be honest, Crowley – most nights now.
Without Fiz the sheets are cold
but the sun is spectrum, full possibility, white light
making a canvas of the walls, the floor, the bathroom sink.
Flat planes of mirror reflect my futurist face.
Can life be better sans Fiz? Life can be purer –
days for art and evenings for parties
and nights for self-pleasuring desperation.
Zinc and stickiness on my fingertips.
Cold sheets, clear days, of loneliness and light.
Lonely: alone: solitude.
Solitude I crave – time for work is the only true food.
Better than this warm beer, work is pure intoxication.
When I’m in full flight, white heat –
like this sun on my legs freckling me,
my legs a canvas. The world a canvas.
Those cacti, faulty spheres – the vine shadows
diamonds and clubs. Our matching sunhats are discs,
White linen playsuit a beacon.
Frangipani leaves an explosion.
All is colour and form here in my studio,
my art school.
Does my face still look interested?
Fiz quizzes her on colour. Still, and again.
I’ve been back from France for seven years.
Seven! I must move, change, shake the establishment,
smash it up for colour, form, for true art!
He is already smashed, his slight shards
cut me down. Cut me up.
Besides, he wallows in figurative cliché. Fucking pastels.
I, Grace Crowley, Indelible Smudge,
will shake up this upside-down art scene.
I will triumph. Just watch me.
I murmur, ‘hmmm’ and ‘maybe’.
I sip my beer.
Smudge’s look flicks like a knife.
I ignore her. She is too full, more than whole,
she spills out over the confines of skin and bone.
Skin keeps us in. Burst skin is rot, we leak
into the fetid air. Here – air, sun and dust.
Jane talks of colour. I prod her – Yes? And? What next?
My prods jab at Smudge. She hates it.
She wants like a battle, she takes like a war, she takes everything –
blood, love, legs, jaws, chins, fingers, and men.
She’s greedy for life. Mine. Theirs.
She doesn’t care. She wants it all.
She tells me I cry at night.
I scream, she tells me. Of the war.
She knows nothing.
The darkness is darkness is darkness a strap a prison I drown each night darkness
rushes into me like gas I can’t move or speak it chokes.
I scream? No. I can’t move or speak. I drown.
But I’m so grateful to wake, I’d profess
love to a monster, a hag with her jaw blown off.
She despises my pastels but they’re vital, they
push back the dark.
They are the palest parts of the spectrum. They admit
no over-the-top force, no big push
and slash of colour.
No stiff upper lip uncompromising modernism.
They flow. They light. They defend us
from the dark.
Smudge has no idea, despite her battle-ready character.
Jane talks of colour. Smudge blurs
and murmurs. I fizz.
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